Organisation - July 5, 2012

Powerless

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The die is cast: Wageningen UR and Van Hall Larenstein are going to divorce.

Now that the dust is beginning to settle, many people are wondering what caused the bust-up. The executive board made the decision to terminate the merger but laid the blame on the staff of VHL and its participational council. They were the ones who obstructed and delayed progress, said board chairman Aalt Dijkhuizen. But nothing was said when the decision was announced about the conditions under which VHL would be in favour of collaboration (an independent executive board of their own and a fairer financial deal).
One of the key words in this whole discussion has been powerlessness. The executive board was out of sight for those at VHL, mainly because the directors had no substantial ideas about what they should be aiming at there. That was the VHL director's job, but she rapidly fell out of favour with the participational council. Lacking a sense of what preoccupied the staff in Velp, Leeuwarden and Wageningen, it was hard for the board to find a solution. Where should Aalt and his colleagues start? It was not that they were not interested. They promised to improve their act several times. But they never managed it. They have been working themselves into the ground, on the top sectors this year, for example - a subject they do have an affinity with. They did not abandon VHL to its fate wilfully, but more out of a kind of powerlessness.
Ellen Marks showed signs of powerlessness, too, when she put critical  programme directors under pressure or even suspended them. She was just like a teacher who sends a difficult pupil out of the classroom - a sign the teacher has actually lost the battle. Their subversive activities - 'Hans must stay'- helped keep VHL staff's spirits up, but were was largely directed at obstructing decisions. The same was true for the MR's endless questions and reservations about the merger and the new educational policy. An MR that does nothing but delay things and emphasize rules and procedures is fighting a losing battle too.
There are major contrasts between the various programmes at VHL - a time bomb under the collaboration within the institute. If the MR wants to stop things stagnating again, it will have to make up its mind what it does want. All the internal hassles will go on until that is resolved. The main issues are: can Ellen Marks stay as director, and what will the educational policy of an independent VHL be? Is VHL going to offer 'unique' programmes at different campuses? Will the interests of the various degree programmes be secondary to those of the institute as a whole? These questions have been in the air for years and Dijkhuizen had them in mind in deciding to terminate the relationship. If you don't know how to carry on together, splitting up is a rational choice, because just muddling through is no longer an option.
Albert Sikkema and Linda van der Nat

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